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JAIPUR: Over 400 farmers from 23 states had gathered at the auditorium of the State Institute for Agriculture Management here, at the state of the two-day seminar on medicinal plants under the auspices of the Union ministry for Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Naturopathy, Siddha and Homeopathy (Ayush). Union minister of state (independent charge) for Ayush Shripad Naik was supposed to inaugurate the seminar.Since the minister could not arrive in time, the session began with bureaucrats offering an overview of progress made in cultivation and marketing of herbal produce over the last decade. The expectation was that the minister would arrive after lunch. Naik did not turn up after lunch either, and Rajasthan minister for agriculture Prabhu Lal Saini too his place as chief guest.

Jagdeep Singh of Spark PR, who has been sending out press releases for government functions such as this one, admitted that he did not know why the Union Ayush minister could not be present for the event.

Secretary Ajit Sharan of the Union Ayush ministry said, “It is perhaps just as well that the inaugural session got delayed. I too may have left after the inauguration, but stayed back because it was put off. This discussion has indeed been enlightening.”

Other senior bureaucrats made presentations or spoke about the progress made in cultivation and marketing of herbal produce. Just 10 years ago, medicinal herbs comprised only about 15% of all cultivated plants, they said, adding that in the last decade the sector has received a fillip. It is now not merely used in medicine, but for general wellness – this means that consumption is year-round, not just for cure. Besides cultivated produce, there are also plants and fruit just collected from the wild. However, to reduce dependence on forest produce, it is necessary to also cultivate these plants. Besides, cultivation would also aid in standardization and quality control, said Shomita Biswas, CEO of the National Medicinal Plants Board.

Top bureaucrats pointed to the need to put in place a mechanism for quality control. There is, at present, also no process of certification by the government of the quality of these products.

Mangal Bir Subba, a farmer from western Sikkim, told TOI that he had arrived early in hope of being able to set up his stall so he could also sell some of his plants, but the space for stalls was already taken up. “Please come tomorrow too. I’ll show you what I have. They’ve promised to let me set up a stall tomorrow,” he said.